Innovating the Future of Mental Health

Welcome to the Center for Mental Health Innovation. We invite you to learn more about our purpose, our journey to improve lives, and the origins of our research center.  

3 Children Looking at a laptop in a classroom

Mental health and behavioral disorders are collectively the leading cause of years of life lost to disability in the United States and the world. Oregon is no exception. We rank near the top in rates of suicide, mental and substance use disorders and near the bottom in care access in children and adults. The major reason for the burden of these conditions is that they have two defining features. First, they are common (over 17 million children affected in the United States and some 50,000 in Oregon). Second, they are early developing and persistent. All emerge during the period of development into adulthood, and into neural maturation. For this reason, the Center's current research focus emphasizes children and adolescents. 

The spectrum of mental health conditions impacting today's youth can include hyperactivity, inattention and disorganization, impulsivity, and emotional extremes; an ADHD diagnosis is one of the most visible early manifestations of mental health conditions which can lead to a wide range of serious life problems, including:

  • Depression
  • Suicidal ideation and attempt
  • Auto accidents and serious injuries
  • Substance abuse
  • Incarceration
  • Severe mental illness
  • Early death due to suicide, accident, or health complications
Child with 2 Fidget Spinners

Educational costs alone are an extra $35 billion per year more for the population with ADHD in the United States. Health care costs are an extra $25 billion hitting families in the United States annually. This does not count lifetime costs as individuals reach adulthood such as under-employment, lost income and lost productivity. These figures show that ADHD is not just a mild condition. Life problems persist and too often multiply with development, evolving into increasingly difficult secondary problems.

Existing medical treatments do provide relief for many if not most sufferers, but this relief has not been enough to prevent these poor long-term results. Part of the reason is that treatments do not cure—they only manage symptoms. Another reason is that existing treatments are difficult to sustain—many patients discontinue them after a time. The Center is actively exploring novel solutions and new paths to discovery for ADHD and the many associated secondary problems that can result.

Brain MRI Images on Backlight

Our research vantage point focuses on mental health in children and adolescents, through maternal-fetal and maternal-infant stages, and intergenerational relationships. Because our work explores symptoms that occur in multiple mental health conditions, we are uniquely positioned to rapidly apply learnings that can span suicide risk and prevention, ADHD, Bipolar Disorder, substance abuse, anxiety, depression, and a litany of other conditions impacting youth, their families, and their communities.

Our investigators use a variety of methods in their discovery efforts. Considered factors include individual biology and personality as well as public health influences like environmental toxicants, poor diet, and health. We utilize state-of-the-art approaches to examine brain networks, genetic and other biological signals, and to develop new and better clinical prediction tools. Our world-class team of scientists collaborate with investigators around the world through international research consortia, multiplying the  efforts conducted in-house.

We collaborate with industry leaders in data processing, community organizations, and the OHSU Health system to facilitate continuous improvement in the endeavor to design a learning health system. An actualized learning health system can leverage the power of real-world insights to continuously refine the accuracy and precision of the innovations derived from our research discoveries; over time, we can accelerate the rate at which we improve mental health care quality and access. 

This is an exciting time, full of promise. Research is advancing rapidly and even in the last five years, our understanding of many disorders has progressed dramatically. We are optimistic for the future.

Our work would not be possible without our enthusiastic donors, our strong funding partnership with the National Institutes of Health, and the generous families and youth volunteering in our studies. Alongside our dedicated staff, volunteers, students and trainees, we are confident in ability to carry out our mission. 

Thank you for visiting, and please look for ways to help.

The Center's origins can be traced back to 2009, when OHSU committed to making major contributions to the fields of development and mental health. The institution created an ADHD Research Program, which in 2019 was fortified by a $12.5 million gift from the Sharp Family Abracadabra Foundation. This gift allowed for expansions of the program, and it became clear with new discoveries that a focus broader than ADHD was in order.

In 2023, OHSU and the Sharp Family expanded the mission and scope of the Center to encompass a range of developmental psychiatric and mental health concerns. To convey this new mission of discovering the mechanisms of mental disorders and developing improvements to be implemented in clinical care settings, the Center was renamed the Center for Mental Health Innovation.

For referrals or to schedule an assessment, call the Adult Psychiatry Clinic and the Child & Adolescent Psychiatry Clinic at 503-494-6176

Get Help Now

If you're thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, please call 1-800-273-8255 to receive free and confidential support 24/7 from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

If you are in crisis or need immediate in-person support, please visit your nearest Emergency Room or walk into OHSU's Psychiatric Emergency Service at Unity Center for Behavioral Health located at 1225 NE 2nd Avenue, Portland, OR 97232, no appointment necessary.

If you are suicidal or are a danger to yourself or to others, please call 9-1-1 or visit your nearest emergency room immediately.